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Expulsion of the Jews from Lithuania in the Spring of 1915, The

A description of political events preceding and accompanying the expulsion of Jews from the western part of Kovno Gubernia, based on the periodical press of 1914-15, the stenographic minutes of the State Duma, and publications primarily from the interwar period
By Anatolij Chayesh, February 2000

Translated by Gordon McDaniel

Abstract: A description of political events preceding and accompanying the expulsion of Jews from the western part of Kovno Gubernia, based on the periodical press of 1914-1915, the stenographic minutes of the State Duma, and publications primarily from the interwar period. The motives for the eviction are given, as are the cover stories; the conditions of the expulsion itself are illustrated by excerpts of reminiscences of older residents of Zeimelis. Other places in Lithuania mentioned in the article are Vilna (Vilnius), Keidany (Kedainiai), Kovno (Kaunas), the Konstantinovskaia volost, Kuze (Kuziai), Panevezys, Pasvalys, Smorgon, Shavli (Siauliai), Yankishki (Joniskis) and others.

This article is also available in the original Russian on the Jewish Heritage Society website.

The First World War left deep marks in the Jewish communities of Lithuania. Focusing on Zeimelis in Panevezys uezd, we will examine the broader military and political events which were reflected in publications of that time and in the reminiscences of oldtimers.

Germany declared war on Russia on 19 July 1914.1 The next day Nicholas II signed the "Most High Manifest" on the war, containing a call to forget "in the terrible hour of trials … internal strife".2 Publishing it, a Jewish journal wrote: "Least of all do Russian Jews think about it (strife) in this fatal moment. In the general rush to the defense of the motherland, they stand shoulder to shoulder with the remaining population of Russia and by their heroic behavior show that now is not the time for internal altercations, now is not the time to think about the deep offenses carried out and being carried out against us".3

The psychology of the Jews of that time was profoundly exhibited by M. Pevzner: "Our … sons are in the first rows going into war to defend those who have hated and oppressed them, leaving their homes and going to spill blood for their enemies, who have trampled their honor, and sometimes their spines, with their feet. And nevertheless they did not take revenge on their enemies and did not conceal the wrongs, but fought manfully against the enemies of Russia with surprising heroism, and they were recognized with all sorts of medals, as heroes. Hope lived in the hearts of our people that the heroism of their sons would show the imperial government that the Jews should be valued, and then the authorities would stop the persecution. And in the future the government would stop separating them from other peoples and would give them rights of citizenship. That’s how they thought – and they were mistaken."4

The great Jewish historian S. M. Dubnov was of a more resolute mind: "I … did not share the unconditional patriotism of some representatives of our society, who held that even an enslaved people was morally obliged to defend a homeland which had been turned into a foreign country for that people. I was of the opinion that if slaves are driven into battle together with citizens, then the slaves must declare loudly that they fight only in the hope of winning for themselves equality and freedom."5

Soon more than 300,000 Jews entered the ranks of the Russian army.6 The well-known publicist, later a minister of the Provisional Government, A. V. Peshekhonov, remarked: "… the Jews demonstrated in the present difficult circumstances no less patriotic passion than other peoples of Russia, no less, perhaps, than many Russians themselves. And this is not in word alone. Evidence coming from the army gives witness to the selfless bravery with which the Jews fight for the fatherland, and that evidence can be found in the columns of Novoe Vremia (New Times).7

The reference to Novoe Vremia was not a coincidence. At that time it was "… the most significant of the reactionary anti-Semitic newspapers, the organ of influential circles in St. Petersburg".8 Immediately after the Manifest was issued, other anti-Semites also fell silent. "Of the extreme rightists, take Mr. Shmakov," wrote Peshekhonov, "His anti-Semitism … always appeared to be a sort of mania … but even he did not stand his ground. ‘I,’ he stated, when asked about the Jews, "from this day welcome the unification of the peoples of Russia. From this day national persecution, hatred and strife ceases’."9

However, for the Jews the tragedy of that war consisted also of its fratricidal character, since Jews served in the armies of both sides. "German Jews," wrote S. M. Dubnov in his diary of 1 August 1914, "go forth to fight with ‘barbarian Russia’ and speak of revenge for Kishinev and the October pogroms. Revenge for whom? For tens of thousands in the Russian army, and the German army would come to lay waste to the very "Pale" where the Russians who carried out pogroms were masters …"10

The silence of the Russian anti-Semites did not last long. The tone was struck by the extremist Polish press. With the increase in military disasters, other newspapers joined them. Here is a characteristic example of their fantasies: "From Siauliai it is reported that Jews have made underground tunnels through which they drive livestock and poultry to Germany. German Zeppelins often come here, land near Siauliai and Jews fill them up with livestock and geese, after which the airships fly off to Prussia".11

In the army, the ignorant masses of soldiers were shown the example of the Galician Jewish soldiers, who, in the ranks of the Austrian army, were defending themselves from Russian czarism, which had brought them lawlessness, the Pale, and pogroms. The hatred roused by army propaganda against Austrian Jewish soldiers was easy to transfer to Russian Jews, their co-religionists. This was facilitated by the Poles together with Januszkewicz, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Army."12

In December 1914 Novyi Voskhod stated: "… the coarse novel of Russian Black Hundreds and Polish anti-Semitic hysterics has already yielded fruit of the most suspicious characteristics … they have even forgotten about ‘babies tortured by Jews’ … they furiously put forth against us new accusations, the most terrible accusations in this time of war, accusations of treason and espionage. Polish Jews, supposedly communicating with Germans and Austrians, greet their units with bread and salt, pour into Germany gold ‘in coffins’, and in ‘goose intestines’ … send them by telephone secret information about the location and number of Russian troops, signal them by windmill or flags … and so forth. … Innumerable anonymous denunciations of the Jews, according to testimony from the government itself, turn out to be completely groundless upon examination – and, nevertheless, the curses continue to grow and spread".13

The assistant to the Director of Affairs of the Council of Ministers, A. N. Yakhontov, wrote: "In Headquarters there is the conviction that the Jewish population in the war theater is a focus of espionage and complicity with the enemy. Thus arose the idea of the necessity of cleansing the strip of the front of Jews. Application of this measure began in Galicia. Authorities in the rear have begun to send thousands and tens of thousands of Austrian Jews into Russian gubernias in the interior. The mass of evacuees included the sick, the crippled and even pregnant women…"14

About the conditions in the neighboring volost to Zeimelis, Konstantinovskaia volost, Novyi Voskhod wrote in January 1915, citing the newspaper Litovskaia Rus:

"Jewish-Lithuanian relations. Among the inhabitants of Konstantinovskaia volost, which has not suffered losses from the enemy advance, there is a feeling of strained relations with the Jews of the place, whom Christians accuse of German sympathies and suspect of espionage, which has led to a boycott of the Jews. The Governor of Kovno, in his tour of the gubernia, gave corresponding instructions to each part of the populace."15

In an attempt to stop the violent growth of anti-Semitism, the writers Leonid Andreev, Maxim Gorky and Fedor Sologub sent around a questionnaire in February 1915, which stated at the beginning:
"… in the difficult days of our country, Jews, arm in arm with Russians, not sparing their lives, defend Rus (Russia) from the enemy.

This unselfish participation in the defense of Russia should delay the shameful development of the ideas and disposition of anti-Semitism in Russia; we do not say destroy, only delay.

However, the growth of beastly damage to the Jews does not cease, on the contrary we must admit with shame that the nightmare of world war, giving rise to brutal emotions in humans, clearly facilitates the greater development of anti-Semitism among the Russian people."16

In the spring of 1915, the Germans concentrated the Army Group Lauenstein in the area of Tilsit, with three infantry and three cavalry divisions opposing one infantry division and units of border police and Russian volunteers.17 According to the plans of the German High Command, the Bavarian cavalry division was to attack from Jurburg (Jurbarkas) and Skirstymon (Skirsnemune) toward Rossieny (Raseiniai) and on northward. The 3rd cavalry division was to attack from Jurburg through Erzhvilki (Erzvilkis) toward the main road between Tilsit and Siauliaui. Behind it was to follow the 78th reserve division.18 These two cavalry divisions were to come the closest to Zeimelis, therefore special attention will be paid to them in this paper.

The German attack began April 14th.

Official communiques s from the German and Russian commands were brief:

Events of 15 April:
"High Command (Oberste Heeresleitung). As a result of attacks northeast and east of Suwalki we have captured Russian positions along a front 20 kilometers deep."19

"From Headquarters of the High Command. To the north of the Neman (River) enemy advance units, passing through Rossieny, approached on the morning of 15 April the line of the Dubysa River."20

Suvoikin, the military correspondent of the newspaper Rech, relying on stories of refugees, gave further details: "The strongest German column attacked along the banks of the Neman from Jurburg (Jurbarkas). Reaching Borki (Baraiciai ?), the Germans reached deep into Rossieny (Raseiniai)district and began to make their way through the forests. Passing through Girtakoli (Girkalnis)and the Gruzishki property, they began to reach the rear of Rossieny (Raseiniai). A second German column also attacked from Jurburg (Jurbarkas), but along a different route: through Erzhvilki (Erzvilkis), Nemokshty (Nemeksciai), Tsaritsyno (Sarapinai), and on to Siauliai. This column was weaker, but acted more forcefully. The path along which the enemy attacked was all in flames."21

Events of 17 April:
"High Command (Oberste Heeresleitung). The battle of Siauliai has been successful for us. Suffering great losses, the Russians burned the city and fled toward Jelgava (Jelgava). Pursuit continues."22

Unofficial publications are more detailed:
"In Siauliai. According to eyewitness accounts, before 8 A.M. on 17 April peasants had rushed in and announced that strong German reconnaissance units were moving toward Siauliai, at a distance of a few versts from the city. There arose a terrible panic among the residents, the more so when barely half an hour after the warning by peasants German shells began to fall on the city. A panicked flight began on the only free road out, to Ianishki (Joniskis). On the road, not far from the Etulery station, residents were able to observe the capture of our communications unit by German cavalry. But, suddenly, there appeared from the direction of Gruzda (Gruzdziai) a strong German reconnaissance force, which opened fire on the fleeing residents.

The chemist, Dr. F., who was working in the Frankel [leather] factory and escaped just as the Germans captured it, stated that "the German units at first did not prevent the exit of residents, but when the last of them were already 5 or 6 versts from the city, in the direction of Ianishki, opened fierce artillery fire which cut down many people, especially women and children."23

"Germans in Ianishki (Joniskis)." German cavalry appeared in Ianishki on 17 April in a few small units, but these were followed by larger units with field artillery which were set up around villages not far from (Ianishki /Joniskis). Larger engagements with our volunteers took place near the Jewish cemetery, a few versts from Ianishki (Joniskis). Artillery fire damaged the Catholic church and small arms fire riddled the Lutheran prayer house. In general, residential buildings suffered little. Some residents were captured by the Germans. Goods were taken from warehouses. Locked shops were smashed in, windows broken."24

Gradually, further details became clear:
"Siauliai under German rule. Germans spent in Siauliai … 11 days. Already on the 15th of April concern grew, because refugees from Rossieny (Raseiniai) had appeared, but there was no panic. It was hoped that residents would manage to leave Siauliai in complete safety. However, on the 16th one could begin to hear strong cannonades, and the flight of the population began … The city burned from artillery shells, and since there was no one to put out the fires, they spread and continued until the evening of April 18th."25

"Siauliai. According to the words of those who have arrived from Siauliai, the German unit had hardly entered the city when indiscriminate looting began. Warehouses, depots, private apartments were all looted. The looting was accompanied by arson in which rabble from the suburb of Shimshi (Sancai ?)took an active part. These dregs of society served as guides for the "valiant soldiers" and together they carried out "requisitions"."26

Ianishki (Joniskis) is located about 25 km to the west of Zeimelis. Newspapers carried no dispatches about battles in places closer in. But, according to the testimony of German military historians, on 18 April (1 May) "reconnaissance in a northerly direction continued to be carried out by Gonnerman’s reconnaissance unit [part of the Bavarian cavalry division], which in Poshvityne was subjected to an attack by superior infantry forces of the enemy … At 10 a.m., the division was put on alert [in Shaplagi] (Spilgiai) by order of the corps commander and it moved toward Poshvityne (Pasvitinys) in support of the 3rd Cavalry Division in Ianishki by attacking the enemy from the East."27

On 19 April (2 May), the Bavarian Cavalry Division reached Ianishki (Joniskis) … The division commander reported that … many mounted patrols, sentries and flying posts … are lounging about between the Nieman and the Jelgava, not being able to find their division because of constant changes in the situation."28

On 20 April (3 May), "… the Bavarian Cavalry Division reached Ligum (Lygumiai), while the 3rd Cavalry Division was concentrated at Poshvityne (Pasvitinys), setting defenses to the north."29 In the days following, both divisions moved to the south.

And so, units of the Lauenstein Corps did not reach Zeimelis, but between the 18th and 20th of April they took Poshvityne (Pasvitinys), located only 17 km to the south. Defenses were established further north, and the Germans carried out reconnaissance. The reconnaissance tactics were described thus in the newspapers:

"Germans at Keidany (Kedainiai). German reconnaissance units are operating, according to refugees, very carefully. Leaving larger forces in the nearest woods, through which they continually make their way, they send lighter scouting parties of 15 to 20 men into the nearby settlements not so much to buy bread, milk and the like, as for the purposes of reconnaissance. When they are sure of safety they move on."30

"Along the Baltic. Latvian newspapers carry interesting reports about meetings with Germans in Courland. The first question posed by the German scouts is usually, how near are the Cossacks."31

Zeimelis is not mentioned in sources. It is clear that its residents knew about events in neighboring Siauliai, Ianishki (Joniskis), and Poshvityne (Pasvitinys). German reconnaissance scouts32 reached Zeimelis, most likely 18-20 April. Eyewitnesses were Ilia Lazarevich Chayesh, who was then 14 years old, and his cousin, Tsilia Moiseevna Chayesh, then about 4. They tell the following.

 Tsilia Moiseevna Chayesh

I. L. Chayesh: "In the spring of 1915 I came for the holidays to Zeimelis, and Ania, my sister, also came from Jelgava. I remember that the Russian troops were retreating. A German offensive was expected. Prior to their arrival, people were terribly frightened. They wanted to hide in the woods. Soon there appeared in the village some group of German soldiers with an officer. There were very few Germans. And for some reason that military group came , or in general had some contact with my parents. And Ania came out. Since she spoke German very well, she became involved in the matter and spoke with the officer.

He said something to her in German. I understood the language, but whatever they were talking about didn’t interest me. In any event, that unit departed from us with apologies. Apparently that was also reconnaissance, but I don’t know for sure. Then the Cossacks came for several days, and later they went away, too."33

Ts. M. Chayesh: "I remember the Germans in bronze helmets coming to Zeimelis, and Cossacks later passing through with lances and swords."34


 Ilia Lazarevich Chayesh
Izrail Mordukhovich Iakushok

These stories were complemented by Izrail Mordukhovich Iakushok, born in Zeimelis in 1921: "From my grandfather’s words I know that one morning in 1915 the Cossacks on horses appeared on Market Square in Zeimelis. They began to take everything from the stores and didn’t pay any money. They were beating everyone right and left. They didn’t kill anyone! They gathered all the Jews on the square and began to interrogate them, looking for German spies. Then they drove everyone into the synagogue. The rabbi said, "These are our saviors. We must cooperate with them." The Cossacks didn’t believe the Jews. They took several hostages."35

Why they took hostages was explained on August 3, 1915 by V. I. Dziubinski, a Duma deputy, at the Duma session that day: " … Now about 400 hostages sit in jails, in Poltava, in Ekaterinoslav, in Mogilev, and they are under constant fear of being hung. Would you like to hear part of the order: "The High Command … considers it necessary to take hostages from the non-government rabbis and rich Jews with the warning that, in case of treachery on the part of the Jewish population, the hostages will be hung." {"Government" rabbis were approved by the governors of the gubernias and these rabbis kept the metrical books for birth, marriage, and death records. There were other rabbis who were not approved by these governors, but they were more the spiritual than the temporal leaders.} This … is not a simple threat. In Sochaczew three hostages have already been hung for a crime which they did not commit, and for people whom they did not know."36

I. M. Iakushok relates further about the Cossacks in Zeimelis: "Everyone was frightened. By evening there was such an atmosphere that there began to be disorder, almost like a pogrom. And then, one young beautiful Jewish woman, a widow, Masha was her name, the mother of three children, spent the night with the Cossack hetman (chief or headman), and in the morning all the Cossacks left the village."

Naturally, the Cossack scouting party that was in Zeimelis sometime between the 21st and 24th of April left the place not because of the legendary act of Masha, but in order to participate in the counteroffensive of Russian units against the German salient* (conspicuously projecting part in a line of defense) extending toward Jelgava and Bauska. But salvation from the disorders and liberation of the Jewish hostages of the village was clearly connected to Masha.

The battles continued.

The events of April 24th:
"From the Headquarters of the (Russian) High Command. Toward the south of Jelgava our troops successfully move forward. On the 24th the enemy was forced quickly to evacuate a strongly fortified position near Ianishki (Joniskis), leaving us a large amount of military spoils."37

The events of April 25th:
"The (German) High Command (Oberste Heeresleitung). Our units attacking Leipaja captured the city. In the course of this action they captured 16,000 soldiers, 12 artillery pieces and many machine guns."38

"From the (Russian) High Command. During the evening of April 25th enemy forces, attacking in support of naval forces along the coast, captured Leipaja after a battle with a small unit of our volunteer forces."39

That same day there came an order for the mass evacuation of Jews from the area of military activity and from places with troop concentrations in Courland.40 According to Iakhontov, "what occurred during these expeditions is indescribable. Even unflagging anti-Semites approached members of the government with protests and complaints about the scandalous attitude toward Jews at the front."41

The events of April 28th:
"From the (Russian) High Command. In the region of Siauliai, on the 28th of April our forces continued the successful pursuit of retreating Germans, who were expelled from the city of Siauliai toward the southwest."42

Returning to Ianishki and Siauliai, the Russian troops stopped the German attack and forced them a noticeable distance away from Zeimelis. Subsequent battles for a while took on the character of positioning. But the surrender of Leipaja – an industrial center and Russian port on the Baltic, as well as significant military losses (according to German data, about 20,000 captured, 16 artillery pieces and 40 machine guns43) required explanation.

The most important reason for this and a series of other defeats suffered by the Russian army consisted of the adventurous character of the offensive operations undertaken by the General Staff in Prussia and Galicia, which had quickly exhausted the technical resources of a country unprepared for protracted war. At the front there was a catastrophic shortage of shells, artillery pieces, machine guns and even rifles. The Minister of War, A. A. Polivanov, stated: "Enjoying a huge advantage in artillery and inexhaustible supplies of shells, the Germans prevent our offensives by artillery fire alone… Due to this fact, and having the possibility of not putting masses of infantry into action, the enemy virtually has no losses, while we are losing men by the thousands."44 For their part, the High Command, Grand Prince Nikolai Nikolaevich and Ianushkevich, Chief of the General Staff, accused the government of "improvidence in the preparation of military and other materiel for the army,"45 seeing in this the influence of German spies.46 Among these spies, the General Staff included all Jews.

The Council of Ministers, judging by the words of Prince Shcherbatov, did not share the opinion of the General Staff concerning the Jews: "Our efforts to convince the General Staff remain in vain. Together and individually we have time and again spoken, written, begged and complained. But the omnipotent Ianushkevich believes it is not necessary for him to take into account considerations of the country overall. In his plans, prejudice against all Jews in general, and to hold them responsible for failures at the front go to support the army… "47

Following the evacuation of the Jews of Courland came the evacuation of the Jews of Kaunas. The operation was prepared in secret and was carried out between the 3rd and 5th of May with no official publication in the newspapers, and indeed with their complete silence for those three days. However, there is no doubt that the Jews in Zeimelis knew what was happening in neighboring Courland, and evacuation was not a complete surprise to them. The rumor about evacuation made the rounds in Panevezys on the morning of the 3rd, but they didn’t believe that the Jewish population of such a large city could be completely evacuated. A police announcement followed in Panevezys on May 4th. Apparently the same was done in Zeimelis.48

I. L. Chayesh: "It was spring 1915. The Germans had approached the Baltic coast, Zeimelis and Bauska. Nikolai Nikolaevich, the Tsar’s uncle, had to explain the defeat. And he accused all Jews as being spies and expelled them all in 24 hours. About the accusation of Jewish spies I know, because I was already in the 3rd grade.
There came a village policeman who, of course, fed himself on Papa’s bribes; whether it was a holiday or not, whenever he came by, he collected his due. This time he was very depressed when he came. He showed the order that he had received, that all Jews had to be expelled in 24 hours from the village, and in fact all the Jews left."49

I. M. Iakushok: "An order was given: "All Jews are spies and must be driven out of Zeimelis." People gathered and all left."

In Lithuanian newspapers it is not possible to find the text of the order, but it was given in a note in the Saint Petersburg "Rechi":
"Expulsion of the Jews. The administrations of the uezds of Kaunas Gubernia received the following order: "According to the orders of the Army Command, all Jews must be expelled who are living west of the line Kaunas, Jonava, Vilkomir (Ukmerge), Rogovo (Raguva), Panevezys, Pasvalys, Salata (Salociai), Bauska. The aforementioned places must also be cleared of Jews. With respect to the Jews living in territory currently under German occupation, this order must be carried out as soon as possible following the clearing of these places of enemy forces and their capture by our troops. The expelled Jews must go to live in one of the following districts (uezd): Bakhmut, Marijupol (Zhdanov), and Slavianoserb districts of Ekaterinoslav Gubernia, and Poltava, Gadiach, Zenkovo, Kobeliak, Konstantinograd, Lokhvitsa, Luben, Myrhorod, Romen and Khorol district of Poltava Gubernia [translatores s note: both Ekaterinoslav and Poltava gubernias are now in Ukraine].

The time limit for the expulsion is the 5th of May. After this date, Jews staying west of the indicated boundary will be punished according to the laws of wartime, and members of the police who do not take active measures in the completion of this order shall be dismissed from duty and brought to trial. In presenting the above to be carried out, I propose that I be informed of the end of the complete eviction of the Jews from the indicated area by 12 p.m. May 5th. On the progress of expulsions from places now held by the enemy, I am to be informed as expulsion occurs"."50

Judging by the official communiques published May 9th, this order was given by the Governor of Kaunas Gubernia on the basis of an order from the High Command, and the "order was carried out by 6 May".51

The propaganda cover for the expulsion was the provocative communiques published 5 May by the newspaper, Nash Vestnik, issued by the General Staff of the armies of the North-West Front:
"Summary of military activities. During the night of the 28th of April in Kuzhi (Kuziai), northwest of Siauliai, the Germans carried out an offensive against troops at rest from one of our infantry divisions, and in the course of this offensive disturbing traitorous behavior of some elements of the local population, especially Jews, was discovered. Before the arrival of our units, Jews hid Germans in many basements in the village, and upon the signal of a gunshot, burned Kuzhi (Kuziai). The Germans, leaping out of basements, rushed to the house of the commandant of our infantry division, and at the same time, two of their battalions supported by cavalry brought fire upon our sentry locations located outside the village, and dug themselves in. The house in which the division commander was living soon became enveloped in flame, and Colonel Vavilov, ordering the (divisional) banner to be burned, did not wish to surrender to the Germans and be killed. Our approaching reinforcements drove the Germans out of Kuzhi (Kuziai) with bayonets and saved the remains of the burned banner.

All local residents who were involved in this scandalous affair were ordered immediately to surrender to the military field court for betraying their country and treasonous activities against our army, and the more influential residents will be exiled to Siberia.

This lamentable event once again confirms a basic requirement of service in the field – the necessity of giving close attention to the matter of securing larger local points which have been under enemy occupation and inhabited, in most cased, by Jews."52

On May 6th the communiques was reprinted53 in Pravitelstvennyi Vestnik (Government Herald) and the Petrograd Telegraph Agency distributed it throughout Russia. The Gubernia administration required the publication of this communiques in provincial newspapers, threatening editors (Minsk, Samar, Rostov) with punishment if they refused.54

The complete falsity of the communiques about the Jews in Kuzhi (Kuziai) was demonstrated on the 19th and 20th of July in the Duma by deputies N. M. Fridman, N. S. Chkheidze and A. F. Kerensky.

From the statement of N. M. Fridman: "… The announcement that, in the village of Kuzhi (Kuziai) our unit suffered because of treachery by the Jews and the local Lithuanian population was plastered up in every city in the Russian Empire. Gentlemen, we have looked into the matter. Mr. Kerensky, member of the Duma, went there, and I also carried out an investigation and it turned out that nothing of the sort happened there. It turned out that there were no cellars there to hide German soldiers. There was one Jewish cellar about 4 arshins long by 3 arshins wide55 and the depth of a man standing, and further, that all the misfortunes took place April 28th, while the Jews had left on the 27th. They left with the approval of the military leadership, with permission of the officers, they were let go, which of course they would not have been had they been guilty of anything. It is known that information about this is at the disposal of the Minister of Internal Affairs, and nevertheless, this slander has not yet been overturned."56

From the statement of N. S. Chkheidze: "The government cannot not know that of 40 houses in Kuzhi (Kuziai) there are only three Jewish houses, with a total of six Jewish families, who were, at the time described in the communiques of the Pravitelstvennyi Vestnik, not in Kuzhi (Kuziai), since they had already left the village out of fear about the enemy attack, and that among those arrested under suspicion of leading Germans into Kuzhi (Kuziai) there was not one Jew, only Lithuanians, and that all those arrested were released because of completely unfounded accusations."57

From the statement of A. F. Kerensky: "I declare from this seat that I personally went to check the accusation which had been raised, that the Jewish population of the village of Kuzhi (Kuziai) carried out an unbelievable attack on Russian troops, and I must repeat that this is only vile slander. Such an incident did not take place, and given the local conditions, could not have taken place."58

It was still a long ways to this exposure. On May 6th to 8th newspapers in Vilnius carried the first few words about the events in the neighboring gubernia:

"Expulsion of Jews from the fortified area of Kaunas. On Sunday evening, May 3rd, police began to inform the Jewish population of Kaunas that all Jews would have to leave the city no later that 12 o’clock on May 5th. Those who remained in the city after that time would be expelled by transportation".59

"Expulsion of Jews from Panevezys. On May 4th the police stated that all Jews must leave the city by 12 o’clock on May 5th. Representatives of the Jewish population appealed to the commandant and vice-governor saying that it was impossible to leave on such short notice, that there were not enough wagons. Then the authorities stated that the deadline was 12 o’clock midnight on the 5th. The announcement of 12 o’clock (noon) was given, evidently, in fear of a delay."60

"Expulsion of the Jews from Kaunas. During the day and evening of May 5th there began to pass through the Vilnius station trains with Jewish families expelled from Kaunas. Meanwhile, the eviction of Jews in Vilnius was threatened."61

Those expelled from the villages related: "In some places one could manage to get carts for a lot of money, in other places one had to go on foot, sometimes 100 and more versts (1 verst equals 3500 feet). In some settlement one could get a place to stay the night, but in others the villagers not only refused a place for the night, but did not even allow the use of their wells to get water. In one place they forbade Jews to take in those evicted for the night on pain of a 3000 ruble fine … all the inhabitants of the place decided, out of sympathy, not to sleep in their own homes but spent the night together with their expelled brethren under the open sky, in the fields.

They spoke movingly about the heartfelt greetings they got on the way from the Jews of villages not subject to expulsion. The latter sent out carts, they provided food, goodies for the children, they accompanied us on foot for many versts."62

The following in known about Zeimelis:
I. L. Chayesh: "We left for Dvinsk, which was in the Gubernia of Vitebsk, now it is known as Daugavpils. We went on horseback because we had no railroad."63

Feivel Iosifovich Zagorski

Feivel Iosifovich Zagorski, who was then 5 years old: "When in 1915 all the Jews in Zeimelis had 24 hours to evacuate, there was chaos and haste. They drove us out, evacuated us. We had a Lithuanian neighbor. Evidently they had given him an order. He harnessed his horse and led us out. I was a boy. I slept all the time. For a child to travel, that was always a joy. I remember that we stopped somewhere. My father took a little wine and performed kiddush. The day we were driven out, or the next day, was the festival of Shavuos. My father was religious and blessed the wine on the way. They took us to Daugavpils. There they loaded us on railroad cars.
At some station we were met. Young people from some organization with white and blue ribbons on their sleeves were standing there. When they saw the children, refugees, they gave them sugar and bread and helped us."64

R. Beliauskene writes: "It was the first day of Shavuos and the Jews of Vilnius went to synagogue not knowing that the first train with all those expelled was already arriving at Novo-Vileika … Notwithstanding that it was a holy day, there were quickly organized meeting places where each Jewish family of Vilnius was required to bring something edible … In the course of two hours, thousands of kilograms of bread, sugar, meat, cheese, eggs, boiled meat and herring were collected."65

At that time, in many Russian cities there were active units of the Jewish Committee to Aid War Victims, as well as local charitable societies. Journals and newspapers wrote: "At 3 o’clock on May 5th the first train with those expelled from Kaunas passed through Smorgon. As soon as it became known in the city that trains with those evicted from the city and gubernia of Kaunas had to pass through, all Jews spontaneously took to organizing aid for the expellees. By the time the second train had arrived there had been stockpiled at the station a large amount of foodstuffs: bread, rolls, eggs, sugar, milk."66

The general picture of the expulsion was, however, much darker than the statements in the censored press and in the reminiscences of people from Zeimelis.

"Local gubernia and uezd authorities who were carrying out these expulsions did it with the maximum possible cruelty. No deadline was given to prepare for expulsion that was more than 24 hours. Police agents drove those expelled into freight wagons, which sufficed for about one-tenth of the refugees, while others with children, old people and very ill people were driven out on foot (Vilkomir /Ukmerge), Zhagory /Zagare), Shadov /Seduva). During the expulsion or very shortly afterwards, the remaining local population plundered the property of those expelled, with the complete inaction of the police… In Gomel the gendarmerie prevented giving food to those passing through, who were exhausted from thirst and hunger… At the Belitsa station, gendarmerie did not allow persons bringing supplies to approach the closed wagons, under threat of shooting."67

The Jews from Zeimelis’ neighbor, Pasvalys, were subjected to special mockery, being expelled in two hours’ time. Many of those from Zeimelis had family connections in Pasvalys. The train from Pasvalys took ten days traveling to Chernigov Gubernia, and the wagons were not opened once. When they were opened at the Unecha station, most of the people were half alive.68

In total about 150,000 Jews were expelled from Kaunas Gubernia.69 The Jewish Weekly (Evreiskaia Nedelia) wrote: "Several days passed and all the signs were disturbing. In Poltava, Simferopol, Orsha, Mglin, Mariupol (Zhdanov, Ukraine), Uman, Kremenchug, Polotsk, "Kaunasites" were everywhere."70

The expulsion sent Zeimelis Jews to various cities: the family of Mordukh Iakushko ended up in Zolotonosh, the parents of Hanna Gel, in Melitopol, the parents of Hasia Kagan, in Vitebsk71, the parents of Ilia Chayesh tried to keep the family in Daugavpils, but not being able to earn anything there, moved first to Gomel, then to Penza. The parents of Tsilia Chayesh ended up with her in Mogilev, from where they also moved to Penza.

F. I. Zagorskii: "They took us to Tambov. Unloaded us. Settled us in a great big house of two or three stories, apparently belonging to the community. There were many expellees there. They gave each family a room. We had the bathroom. The baths were large, we put our bedding in them and slept there. How long that lasted, I don’t remember. Then they sent us out to apartments."


The expulsion of the Jews did not and could not save the Russian army in Lithuania from further defeats, since their causes did not have anything to do with the Jews. On the 9th (22nd) of July the retreating cavalry unit of Trubetskoi reached Zeimelis, and not contacting the enemy, left. By the morning of the 12th (25th) of July, Schmettow’s German cavalry corps entered Zeimelis. There were no battles in the village, and its houses did not suffer at all from military action.

On 9 August 1915 the commandant of Kaunas surrendered the fortress without a battle.73 On 19 September, German forces occupied Vilnius.74 The front was stabilized only in October 1915, when the Russian armies dug in on the line of Riga, the Western Dvina River, Daugavpils.75


1. Istoriia SSSR (History of the USSR), v. 6. Moscow, 1968, p. 521. Here and henceforth, dates are given in Old Style. They are 13 days earlier than New Style.
2. Rech (Speech), 22 July 1914, no. 193.
3. Novyi Voskhod (New Dawn), 24 July 1914, no. 29, p. 1-3.
4. Mordukh Pevzner. Letopis Penzenskoi Evreiskoi Obshchiny (Chronicle of the Penza Jewish Community). Translated from the Hebrew by IU. Bar-Kagan. Evreiskaia Shkola (Jewish school): Saint Petersburg, 1995, no. 1, p. 158. The author of the chronicle, completed in 1933, was for a long time the head of the Penza synagogue.
5. S. M. Dubnov. Kniga Zhizni: Vospominaniia I Razmyshleniia: Materialy Dlia Istorii Moego Vremeni (Book of Life: Recollections and Reflections: Material for the History of My Time). Saint Petersburg, 1998, p. 337.
6. Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi istoricheskii arkhiv (RGIA) (Russian State Historical Archive), fond 1278, fascicle 5, document 1019, leaf 2.
7. "Russkoe bogatstvo (Russian riches)," September 1915, no. 9, p. 320. Further material on this subject was published in the journal, Voina I Eevrei (War and the Jews), which came out in Moscow in 1914-1915.
8. Evreiskaia Entsyklopediia (Jewish Encyclopedia), Saint Petersburg 1908-1913, v. 11, p. 757 [this has been reprinted].
9. "Russkoe Bogatstvo," September 1915, no. 9, p. 295.
10. S. M. Dubnov. Kniga Zhizni, p. 337.
11. "Evreiskaia Nedelia (Jewish Weekly)" of 14 June 1915, no. 4, p. 10, with reference to the clerical Litvuos Zenos and the Polish Dva Grosha (Two Groschen).
12. V. Lvov-Rogachevskii. Goniteli Evreiskogo Naroda V Rossi: Istoricheskii Ocherk (Persecutors of the Jews in Russia: Historical Essay). Moscow, 1917, p. 93.
13. Novyi Voskhod of 18 December 1914, no. 50-51, p. 1.
14. Iakhontov A. N. Tiazhelye Dni: Sekretnye Zasedaniia Soveta Ministrov 16 Iiulia – 2 Sentiabria 1915 G. (Difficult Days: the Secret Sessions of the Council of Ministers, 16 July – 2 September 1915), in: Arkhiv Russkoe Revoliutsii (Archives of the Russian revolution), vol. 18, Berlin, 1926, p. 42.
15. Novyi Voskhod of 15 January 1915, no. 2, p. 10.
16. Cited in Novyi Voskhod of 6 February 1915, no. 5
17. G. Korolkov. Srazhenie Pod Shavli (Battle of Siauliai), Moscow-Leningrad, 1930, p. 5.
18. M. Pozek. Germanskaia Konnitsa v Litve I v Kurliandii v 1915 Godu (German Cavalry in Lithuania and Courland in 1915). Translation from German. Moscow-Leningrad, 1930, p. 20-22. The book gives detailed descriptions and diagrams of the movements of the military units of the Lauenstein group.
19. Berliner Tagbladet of 28 April, no. 215. Author’s translation. Keep in mind that German sources use New Style dating, so there is a 13-day difference.
20. Vilenskii Vestnik (Vilnius Herald), 17 April, n. 3602.
21. Rech of 26 April, no. 113. According to the data of M. Pozek (see below).
22. Berliner Tagbladet, 1 May, no. 221.
23. Vilenskie Novosti (Vilnius News), 28 April 1915, no. 115.
24. Op. cit., 3 May 1915, no. 2086.
25. Rech, 7 May1915, no. 124.
26. Evreiskaia Nedelia, 24 May 1915, no. 1, p. 35.
27. M. Pozek, op. cit., p. 36.
28. Op. cit., p. 39.
29. Ibid.
30. Vilenskii Vestnik, 3 May, n. 3618.
31. Rech, 26 April 1915, no. 113.
32. These were probably scouts from Gonnerman’s unit.
33. Recorded 1984.
34. Recorded 1981.
35. This and other recordings of I. M. Iakushko made in 1999.
36. RGIA, fond 1278, fasc. 5, doc. 1019, leaf 34 "Communication no. 170 to the President of the Council of Ministers and the Minister of Internal Affairs concerning the inquiry into illegal activities of the authorities with regard to the Jewish population living in the area of the theater of military operations (entered over the signature of 31 members of the State Duma 20 July 1915), Vladimir Ivanovich Dziubinskii, deputy from Tobolsk Gubernia."
37. Vilenskii Vestnik, 27 April, n. 3612.
38. Berliner Tagbladet, 8 May no. 234.
39. Vilenskii Vestnik, 27 April, n. 3612.
40. RIGA, fond 1278, fasc. 5, doc. 1019, leaf 2 verso.
41. Ark. Iakhontov. Pervyi God Voiny (Iiul 1914-Iiul 1915) (The First Year of the War, July 1914-July 1915), in: Russkoe Proshloe: Istoriko-Dokumentalnyi Almanakh (The Russian Past: an Historical Documentary Almanac), book 7, Saint Petersburg, 1996, p. 293.
42. Vilenskii Vestnik, 30 April, no. 3615.
43. Die Operationen des Jahres 1915 (Operations in 1915), Berlin, 1932; in Der Weltkrieg 1914 bis 1918 (The World War 1914 to 1918), vol. 8, p. 124.
44. Iakhontov A. N. Tiazhelye dni, p. 15.
45. Ark. Iakhontov. Pervyi god, p. 310.
46. I. V. Alekseeva. Agoniia Serdechnogo Soglasiia: Tsarizm, Burzhuaziia I Ikh Soiuzniki Po Antante 1914-1917 (The Agony of Sincere Agreement: Czarism, the Bourgeousie and Their Allies in the Entente of 1914-1917), Leningrad 1990, p. 93-97.
47. Iakhontov A. N. Tiazhelye dni, p. 43. Nikolai Borisovich Shcherbatov was the Minister of Internal Affairs.
48. Evreiskaia Nedelia, 30 August 1915, no. 15, p. 48.
49. Recorded by the author in 1980.
50. Rech, 10 May 1915, no. 127.
51. Kovenskie Gubernskie Vedomosti (Kaunas Gubernia News), 9 May, no. 29.
52. Nash Vestnik (Our Herald) of 5 May 1915, no. 15.
53. The reprint omits the middle of the text, from "and two battalions at the same time" to the words "they will be sent to Siberia."
54. RGIA, fond 1278, fasc. 5, doc. 1019, leaf 4 verso. Evreiskaia Nedelia, 6 September 1915, no. 16, p. 11, and 20 September 1915, no. 18, p. 34.
55. One arshin is approximately 70 cm.
56. Gosudarstvennaia Duma. Chetvertyi Sozyv. Stenograficheskie Otchety. 1915 G. Sessiia Chetvertaia (State Duma. Fourth Congress. Stenographic minutes. 1915. Fourth Session), Petrograd, 1915, p. 171-172. Naftal Markovich Fridman was a deputy from Kaunas Gubernia.
57. Op. cit., p. 440. Nikolai Semenovich Chkheidze was a deputy from Tiflis (Tbilisi) Gubernia.
58. Op. cit., p. 110. Aleksandr Fedorovich Kerenskii was a deputy from Saratov Gubernia.
59. Vilenskii Kurer (Vilnius Courier), 6 May 1915, no. 2089.
60. Evreiskaia Nedelia, 30 August 1915, no. 15, p. 48.
61. Vilenskii Vestnik, 8 May 1915, no. 3623.
62. Evreiskaia Nedelia, 13 September 1915, no. 17, p. 27, 28.
63. Recorded 1980.
64. This and the following recording of F. I. Zagorskii made in 1989.
65. R. Beliauskene. V Likholet’e: Evreiskaia Blagotvoritelnost v Vilne/Vilniuse V 1914-1942 Godakh (In Time of Trouble: Jewish Charity in Vilnius, 1914-1942), in: Evreiskaia Blagotvoritelnost na Territorii Byvshego SSSR: Stranitsy Istorii (Jewish Charity on the Territory of the former USSR: Pages from History), Institut Sotsialnykh I Obshchinykh Rabotnikov; Peterburgskii Evreiskii Universitet (Institute Of Social And Community Workers; Petersburg Jewish University), edited by D. Eliashevich and B. Haller. Saint Petersburg, 1998, p. 100-101.
66. Evreiskaia Nedelia, 24 May 1915, no. 1, p. 24.
67. RGIA, fond 1278, fasc. 5, doc. 1019, leaves 2 verso and 3.
68. Fourth session of the Duma [see note 56], p. 443. From the speech of V. I. Dziubinskii.
69. Ibid.
70. Evreiskaia Nedelia, 24 May 1915, no. 1, p. 24.
71. Information received in 1999 in Israel from Hanna Wilk (nee Gel), living in Rishon le-Tziyon; Hasia Kagan, living in the same place, and Moshe Iakushko, living in Kiryat-Yam.
72. G. Korolkov, Srazhenie, p. 57, 69.
73. Istoriia SSSR (History of the USSR), Moscow 1968, v. 6, p. 549.
74. R. Beliauskene, V likholet’e, p. 103.
75. Istoriia SSSR, v. 6, p. 550.

*Salient is a military term referring to a "bulge" in the front line which extends into enemy-held territory. The most famous example of this fromWorld War II was the Battle of the Bulge, when in December 1944 the Germans mounted a last-gasp offensive through the Ardennes Forest in Belgium in an attempt to reach the English Channel and sever the northern from southern front of the Allies. However, they got bogged down, and the result was a large salient, or bulge, extending deep into Allied territory. {Translator’s note.}

about the author
Anatolij Chayesh


Anatolij Chayesh has been a scientific researcher since 1991 at the St. Petersburg Jewish University, where his area of interest is searching for materials and documents on the Jews of Imperial Russia in the libraries and archives in St. Petersburg.